Jennifer Pastor 

June  2013

by Susannah Tantemsapya

Jennifer Pastor creates large-scale sculptures that delve into complicated societal constructs. Endless Arena (2009-2012), made from electroless nickel-plated steel and painted fiberglass, is informed by investigations of unregulated 'no-holds-barred' fighting events along with conversations with veteran combat artists. This high-octane environment is visually presented in a synchronized loop, repeating the cycle ad infinitum.

Whitewall spoke to Pastor about her latest show at Regen Projects in Los Angeles and her curiosity with this underground world.

Whitewall: You have spent two years investigating unregulated 'no-holds-barred' fighting events. How did this start?

Jennifer Pastor: Lack of reliable information, followed by dubious imagery and then no imagery at all, after the Bush invasion of Bagdad in 2003, media just kind of went blank.  For a long period afterward, like many others – I felt a frustration and disturbance of being unable to see

In the project “Dead Landscape” - in this malaise of feeling somewhat blind…over a 2-year period I began drawing at ‘no-holds-barred’ fighting events. I was particularly interested in small venues unregulated by the Sports Authority, –urban rec-clubs, parolees letting off steam at gyms, Indian reservations, casinos and then a couple larger commercial venues in Vegas. I was drawing mostly at night, - blind gesture drawing.
In the earlier years of the sport the interest was to exaggerate and mismatch bodies and fighting styles (so you’d have this huge wrestler with a tiny jiu jitsu fighter or kick boxer) strange just to see the cominglings. There was a huge growth in popularity through UFC and Pay Per-View around this time - but it became more regulated/regularized.

During the same time, I was traveling to Washington DC and Quantico, Virginia speaking with veteran combat artists from various campaigns and divisions of the military (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq). Viewing and photographing drawings in their possession, in personal sketchbooks, and in the odd situation of direct 'on the spot' sketches of action and stillness, found in the isolated ‘mortuaries’ of flat files in several branches of National Military Archives and storage facilities. Specifically I was looking for ‘on the spot’ (eye-witness) drawings of action – which turned out to be rare.

WW: Can you elaborate on your conversations with veteran combat artists?

JP: I spoke to a number of veteran combat artists From WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and Iraq. Two very generous exchanges were with Edward Reep, who was 96 at the time we first met, and Jack Dyer, who made oddly delicate plein air watercolors while he was enlisted in Vietnam.

The project Dead Landscape orbits around a gift, a drawing by Edward Reep (WWII “German Pillbox” Anzio Harbor, 1944), which he gave me after some very personal and insightful conversations. The drawing is stamped in red on back: “Rejected by War Department” and was the only one remaining in his possession from the war. It looked very different from his other work. It is an extraordinary drawing.

Jack Dyer, led me to specific works in one of the warehouse archives that he thought were drawn ‘on the spot,’ rather than illustrations/propaganda which is most of the material.

I photographed the gesture of his hands offering these drawings, which struck me as a beautiful form of pure communication; although the subject seems to be dead the interruption of witness and the generosity of the gesture is animate, alive.

WW: How does Endless Arena weave together these stories together?

JP: The sculpture Endless Arena is a sort of extruded drawing itself, an agitated hybrid constructed from some of the most peculiar situations and perceptions and the more 'impossible' drawings from those events. 
Sculpted blind, inside out. Dug/carved cavities directionally not knowing what the facing side of the sculpture would look like…synchronized movements and shifting dominances.

Drawn line in space and pushing cavities into membrane thin materials led to the material choices. A desire to push deeply into flat screen space and flatten the deep space of action.

WW: How did you choose the materials for this sculpture?

JP: These overlapping activities were an exploration of the complex situational space of the fights, the spectacle of crowds, chaos, and the mediation of time-lapse and multiple viewpoints on surrounding video screens, along with a strange pattern of relationships that evolved observing the situation of the drawings by combat artists, lying and delicately handled in the various military archives.

In many venues video cameras projected multiple points of view. Incredibly interesting/satisfying (compared to my blind state) how the fighters were able to use the mediation of their own bodies so directly, looking at a screen in front of them to see what was going on behind them, targeted.

The sculpture Endless Arena came shortly after… taken from fragments of many drawings, and distortions (that) I was sort of hyper-aware of from immersing myself in those environments for two years. I was attracted to the environments in the first place as a sculptor intrigued by the complex (and sometimes opposing) "situational spaces" of both engagements. One engagement was about intimately looking at the hidden, overlooked, and the other about sticking ones face right in the spectacle.

WW: What was it like being a woman artist researching this very male-dominated underground world?

JP: Gender is also an interesting and elastic thing.

Jennifer Pastor has exhibited in major museums domestically and internationally including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humelback, Denmark; Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg, Germany; and FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon, France. Pastor participated in the 1996 Sao Paulo Biennial, the 1997 Whitney Biennial and the 2003 Venice Biennale, and is the recipient of the 1995 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award. Her tripartite sculpture The Perfect Ride (2003) will be shown at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam this spring.

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